cooking in italy

Summer fruit: apricot and noyeaux tarts

An ode to wasting no part of a fruit

Waste not, crave not. Particularly true when it comes to apricots, which, inside their stone, hide a sweetly bitter little nut born to make all foods more interesting. My grandfather would crack the stone and pass the armelline-their italian name-onto our eagerly waiting hands. My mother would gather the uncracked stones from our plates all season long, so she could use them to flavor jams, liquors, cookies, tarts.

To stave off the craving this year, I have been scattering them on my apricot tarts.


Crostata di albicocche e mandorle

Almonds and apricots tart

for a 10 to 12” tart pan

270 grams flour

100 grams sugar

135 grams butter

4 egg yolks

pinch of salt

grated zest of a lemon or orange

8 ounces almond paste in 1 piece

2 pounds apricots

1 tablespoon sugar

To make the crust, place the first 6 ingredients in the mixer bowl. Using a paddle attachment, work on medium high speed.

As the butter and yolks are broken into the dry ingredients, the mixture will turn into a thick powder.

The powder will quickly turn to crumbs and appear more yellow and less whitish.

As the crumbs get bigger and the powdery appearance disappears, increase the paddling to the highest speed.

The crumbs will get bigger and bigger and the noise the paddle makes while stirring will change from continuous to slightly intermittent, as if the dough is resisting it.

When the dough is clustered in big clumps, it is ready. Empty it on a piece of plastic wrap and quickly press the clumps of dough together with the tip of your fingers.

Press to form a fat disk with the palm of your hands. Wrap tightly with plastic and place in the refrigerator to rest for at least 30 minutes.

If using a food processor pulse until the crumbles start coming together as described and proceed as above.

Roll the almond paste in between 2 sheets of parchment paper to as thin a layer as you can, ideally about 1/2 the thickness of the crust. Set aside in a cool place.

Roll the pasta frolla to 1/8” thick. Drape it over the tart pan. Press it down to adhere to the bottom and cut the excess crust leaving about 1/4". Prick the bottom.

Peel one layer of parchment paper off the almond paste and lay the paste over the tart pan and carefully line the pasta frolla with it making sure it adheres well all over the bottom. Place in the freezer.

Wash, dry and quarter the apricots. Crack the stones and gather the nuts that are inside. Chop them finely and mix them with a tablespoon of sugar.

Turn the oven on to pre-heat to 350˚F.

Arrange the apricot segments in concentric circles over the tart crust, alternating 1 skin side up and 1 skin side down. Sprinkle the noyeaux and sugar over the apricots

Place on a sheet pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the crust edges are golden and the apricots are a little shriveled but still delightfully pointy and looking up to the sky.

Let cool before serving.

Cooking in Italy: when in Rome, do zucchini like the Romans

what keeps me coming back to Rome
what keeps me coming back to Rome

Most people come to Rome for the sights, history, culture, art. I come for the zucchini. Roman zucchini are light green, grooved, tender affairs of perfection and joy which are always present on my birthday table.

You see, I share my birthday with the one of my sisters, Camilla, who still lives in Rome. We saw the light 3 years apart to the day and we have a tradition of celebrating together.

Camilla lives in Testaccio with her husband and 2 children, steps away from the famed mercato where yesterday morning I found the zucchini pictured here.

They are featured below in one of my favorite summer creations.

This week I am in Abruzzo, guest of the makers of pasta Rustichella. We just finished our first day of sight seeing and amazing food, you can follow this great food and culture trip on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Next week to Rome again, then on to Maremma where I can get ready for that lucky group of 12 who will be discovering this magical area with me in September. There are still a few spots on the tour, for more information email discovermaremma@gmail.com


Insalata di zucchine crude ai profumi d'estate

Summer scented raw zucchini salad

 

6 small light green or yellow zucchini or a mix of the 2

1/2 a small red onion

salt

1 lemon

1/4 cup almonds or other nuts

1 handful basil with flowers pepper to taste

olive oil

 

Using a mandolin, a shaver or a very sharp knife, slice the zucchini and onion paper thin into a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and douse with lemon juice.

Toss well, cover and set aside and let stand while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Blanch the almonds in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Slide them out of the skin and toast them at 325˚F until a golden beige. When cool, slice them.

Pick and wash the basil leaves, dry them carefully, stack them, roll them longitudinally and cut them into thin ribbons.

When ready to serve the salad, add the almond and basil and toss well. Dress with olive oil season with pepper. Toss again and adjust seasoning if necessary.

NOTES:

  • Feel free to sub basil for mint or young parsley, or even tarragon or chervil
  • I love almonds with this one, but if you have other nuts to use, please do not run out shopping for almonds

Cooking in Italy: pane cunzatu

cooking in bikini:PanareaWhile in Panarea, pane cunzatu was one of the specialties most eateries advertised. This dressed bread is a cooked until hard crown of pane di semola-hard wheat bread, softened with the juice and flesh of little tomatoes and enlivened by capers, basil, oregano, olive oil...kind of a seminal food for one like me. I tried my hand at it. Two things were happiest about playing with pane cunzatu: cooking it in a bikini and watching the joy and taste with which the children ate it.

 

 

pane cunzatuPane cunzatu Dressed bread

1 pound cherry tomatoes salt to taste 1/3 cup capers packed in salt 1 handful fresh basil leaves 1/4 of a small red onion 2 to 3 teaspoons dried oregano pepper to taste 1 10-12" crown hard semolina bread (this is fairly common in Italian bakeries) olive oil to taste Quarter the cherry tomatoes and place them in a colander inside a bowl. Season them liberally with salt, toss them well and squeeze them gently to let the juices run. Set aside.

Rinse all the salt off the capers and soak them in warm water. Stack the basil leaves, roll them and slice them gently in very thin ribbons. Slice the onion very thinly. Drain and rinse the capers then squeeze off the excess water.

Add the oregano, basil, capers and onions to the tomatoes and toss well. Adjust salt and pepper.

Lift the colander, you should have plenty of tomato juice.

Lay the bread on a platter and crack it in chunks by hand. Sprinkle it lightly with salt then pour the tomato juice all over it. It should be nicely wet and soft, but not soaked to the point that excess water sweats out of it. If it needs it, just add a bit of still water to it.

Dress both the bread and the tomatoes generously with olive oil. Toss the tomatoes again and taste for flavor, adjust seasoning if it needs it. If there is more tomato juice, pour it on the bread.

Arrange the tomatoes all over the bread and garnish with a few basil tips and flowers . Bring to the table.

NOTES:

  • This dish can be enriched with many things to make it a more filling meal
  • I served sides of tuna packed in oil, soft boiled eggs, anchovies, olives, shaved aged ricotta that people could pick from
  • I am, of course and as always, partial to anchovies

Cooking in Italy: Chocolate on my sandals

  Sandali al cioccolatoI adore these sandals, chosen by my child among several pairs he had me model during a shoe shopping session he deemed the most Mamma/Ernesto fun  we had this year. They have style, comfort. They sexily showcase my ankles-sexy ankles being a critical criterion of beauty for Italians.

And since last week they are further adorned by a permanent chocolate stain acquired at the splendid Scuola del Cioccolato Perugina in my hometown of Perugia, where I spent 2 days under the tutelage of Maestro Massimiliano Guidubaldi.

You might remember last summer's post about my incipient collaboration with Perugina Chocolate. As those buds continue to blossom, Baci and other Perugina products have inspired me to create, share, teach and immerse myself in the story of quality that is Perugina.

 

Baci making con Marina

 

Rediscovering and elaborating this part of my heritage has been a path of much joy: from creating delectable Baci based desserts, to watching the faces of children making Baci from scratch, to telling the tale of a family where so many thought out of the box and from which I am proud to descend.

 

 

 

Alcohol:Chocolate pairing

 

Massimiliano and I tempered, molded, dipped. We improvised, we taught and, as in what has by now become a yearly tradition, imbibed remarkable amounts of espresso and alcohol, including a 10am session on how to properly pair chocolate with alcohol that started with the playful match of a glass of Sagrantino Passito VS a bar of Luisa Dark 51%  and ended with reserve rum whipping the snap of a 70% Nero Sfoglia into perfect shape.

Chocolate fun in Perugia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ernesto e cartigli

 

 

The 2-day chocolate marathon ended with a 4-hand bilingual class delivered to a group of 10 which included my sister Silvia and my little Ernesto, who beamed at his creations and stated: "Mamma, it's just in our genes". Well, if the stain on my sandals is any indication, then Ernesto might be right: this is something I just can't seem to scratch off.

 

 

 

I will be teaching classes modeled on my experience at Scuola del Cioccolato throughout the year-including Baci making from scratch, of course-and will integrate more chocolate work and Baci desserts from my growing collection in the Italian cooking workshops I hold at the Italian Consulate in San Francisco on the first Wednesday of each month from September to June, from 1 to 5pm. Click here for my calendar of events. As always, the teachings are for home cooks, who, as I have been learning through my work at the Scuola, can achieve professional grade results while working chocolate at home without any particular implement, other than some techniques and a lot of passion.

Until you can join one of my classes, try this creme caramel al gianduja, a creation which found much favor during a reception the Perugina team hosted at Eataly in Chicago in early May and is yet easy enough that my 18 Reasons Mother's Day kids class could make it. By the way, much credit for me managing to perfect this confection goes to the invaluable sounding board that is my friend and accomplished pastry chef Deirdre Davis.

Creme caramel al gianduja Gianduja creme caramel

Gianduja, a type of chocolate Italians call the 4th flavor, is a mix of dark and milk chocolate and hazelnut paste, created in Piedmont in the early 1800's. This sweet is best made the day before, to maximize the advantage of a careful cooling process. However, times can be shortened in a pinch (see note)

for 6 peocreme caramel al giandujaple 1/4 pound sugar 2 tablespoons water 1 teaspoon Frangelico 2.5 cups milk 1 vanilla bean 1/2 cup well toasted hazelnuts 10 ounces gianduja chocolate 4 eggs 4 yolks 1/4 tsp salt

Place half the sugar, water and Frangelico in a small sauce pot. Place over medium heat and melt without stirring but often swirling the pot around.

 

The sugar will slowly melt, then start bubbling. At some point, the color will start turning from clear whitish to beige, golden and, eventually, dark brown. When a marked burnt smell can be detected, it is ready.

Pour it on the bottom of a deep circular mold with a hole in the middle. Swirl the mold all around so that the caramel coats the sides and bottom of the mold. Set it aside to cool and harden.

Heat the milk to just before boiling. In the meantime, score the vanilla bean and chop the hazelnuts.

Remove the milk from the heat and drop the vanilla bean and about 1/3 of the hazelnuts in it. Cover the pot and set it aside to infuse for 15 to 20 minutes.

In the meantime, cut the gianduja in small pieces. Whisk the eggs, yolks and remaining sugar until the sugar has completely dissolved and it is pale yellow and a little fluffy-this can be done in an electric mixer.

Strain the milk and pour it over the cut gianduja. Whisk until it is smooth then gently pour it into the eggs and sugar mixture. Stir the mixture with care until it reaches uniform color and texture.

Strain everything twice through a very fine mesh sieve then pour it into the mold over the solidified caramel.

Heat the oven to 350˚F and set up a water bath with rack on the bottom. Set the mold in the water bath, tent with aluminum foil and bake until set, about 60 to 70 minutes.

Remove the water bath from the oven and leave the mold in until the water has completely cooled.

Remove the mold from the water bath, wrap tightly and hold overnight in the refrigerator to dissolve max amount of caramel.

To unmold, run a paring knife around the edges of the mold, place a round platter on top, turn over, tap all around and gently shake. The creme caramel will slide right off.

Sprinkle with the remaining hazelnuts right before serving and enjoy cold.

NOTES:

  • If you are short on time, you can move the mold to an already cool water bath to hasten the cooling process. Leave it in for an hour or so then place it in the refrigerator until you are ready to unmold it.
  • The creme caramel will still come out, though it will be a little creamier than expected and the caramel will not be as fully dissolved as it would be in an overnight rest.
  • Lastly, the sieving passage is critical to eliminate the foam after from the mixture. An excessively foamy mixture poured into the mold will shrink down to little and be taken over by the caramel.